24 April 2012

Tech $Billionaires Want to Be Space $Trillionaires

It will cost as much as $3 billion to finance a credible assault on near Earth asteroids, in search of $trillions of dollars worth of space minerals, such as platinum, according to this PDF white paper from the Keck Institute, CIT, and JPL. And as mentioned here recently, it looks as if a group of private investors with sufficient clout is prepared to do what the US government space agency NASA has never considered doing -- making space exploration and development an enterprise that can pay for itself.
A group of wealthy, adventurous entrepreneurs will announce on Apr. 24 a new venture called Planetary Resources, Inc., which plans to send swarms of robots to space to scout asteroids for precious metals and set up mines to bring resources back to Earth, in the process adding trillions of dollars to the global GDP, helping ensure humanity’s prosperity and paving the way for the human settlement of space.

...Despite the promise of astronomical profits, the long time-scales and uncertain return on asteroid mining has historically driven most investors away from such undertakings. But the new company is also backed by a number of other billionaire luminaries, including Google’s CEO Larry Page and executive chairman Eric Schmidt, former Microsoft chief architect Charles Simonyi, and Ross Perot Jr. The venture also counts on filmmaker James Cameron, former astronaut Tom Jones, former JPL engineer Chris Lewicki, and planetary scientist Sara Seager as advisers. _Wired

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On Tuesday, Planetary Resources Inc., whose mission has been shrouded in secrecy, will outline in Seattle its plan to send an unmanned spacecraft to an asteroid and mine it for valuable metals and water that could be used in further space exploration or returned to earth.

The company, backed by several billionaires, is working to recruit engineering and mission-planning expertise and allow private companies to bid to help it launch the spacecraft, said John S. Lewis, a University of Arizona planetary-science professor who said he is an adviser to Planetary.

...Mr. Lewis, whose 1997 book, "Mining the Sky," helped popularize the idea of extracting natural resources from asteroids, said Planetary's president already owns a small firm that builds spacecraft.

Despite the early financial support from wealthy investors and the backing of well-known space-exploration researchers, Planetary Resources faces many technical questions and uncertainties about costs and the technology required to extract materials from asteroids.

Scientists have said such a pursuit could cost hundreds of millions of dollars at least....The 70-year-old Mr. Lewis said the technical requirements for sending an unmanned mission to an asteroid near Earth is "easier than landing on the moon because there is almost no gravity" to contend with on asteroids.

Scientists, including some researchers from National Aeronautics and Space Administration, have said they believe mining asteroids is crucial to future space exploration. Mr. Lewis said asteroids could yield "astronomical quantities" of minerals such as iron and nickel that could be used to build components for housing space explorers, and supply water for a fuel source.

"We could cut the umbilical cord that ties us to Earth," he said.

In addition, studying asteroids could help humans figure out methods to prevent large ones from colliding with Earth, he said. _WSJ
Private space enterprise is the best hope for establishing a permanent and expanding human presence off-planet. The biggest obstacle is governmental and inter-governmental fears that private groups might become powerful enough to escape the control of Earth governments.

While such an escape is likely to happen eventually -- unless humans give themselves up to lefty-Luddite green faux environmental primitivism -- the kind of people who are attracted to top governmental and inter-governmental office these days are not usually the kind of persons who willingly give up control over others.

For now, as long as money-making space enterprises are willing to pay their taxes and tributes to Earthly bureaucracies, they may be allowed to sample a tiny part of the resource wealth which has always circled above, just out of reach.

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Blogger Eric said...

The thing is, most scientific discoveries can be researched by smaller and smaller teams, it's a benefit of automation. Space Flight has had a decrease in cost over time, though I'm not sure if it rivals the decreases we see in biotech and drone research.

Lawyers are trying their damnedest to keep track of 3d printing technology so that they can enforce intellectual property and keep the current system in line. If you were ruling over a third world shit hole with control systems in place it would be a lot easier to suppress the technology, but we're at the center of the innovation for the technology.

It's a little different because we don't have the overwhelming advantage in space travel compared to a few other countries, but it's still basically true.

The type of people who are attracted to government offices aren't "forward thinking". They have a heavy emotional investment in the status quo. Gunpowder, automobiles, the PC, the changes that they created were vastly underestimated by the "Elites". Most engineers didn't even see the transition from vacuum tube to transistor coming ahead of time.

Tuesday, 24 April, 2012  
Blogger yamahaeleven said...

Eric, I think you are spot on, I've seen many examples to illustrate your point about ever smaller teams accomplishing ever greater things as knowledge and know how increase.

I'm headed down to the Museum of Flight to observe the press conference, should be a good show.

Tuesday, 24 April, 2012  
Blogger Hell_Is_Like_Newark said...

I wonder if the research in asteroid mining lead to advancements in propulsion systems? We are still stuck with chemical engines, with only some advancements (i.e. Ion Engines). Will one of these investment groups make something out of science fiction a reality? Such as antimatter catalyzed nuclear pulse propulsion?

Tuesday, 24 April, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone, and looking forward to your report, Yama11.

HILN: Expect an interlocking community of space enterprises to grow up rather quickly, once the supporting cash flow kicks in. The old model of depending on government revenues, bureaucrats, and officeholders to support the human advance into space was guaranteed to keep us stranded on this rock.

Tuesday, 24 April, 2012  

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